By SETH J. FRANTZMAN
In the latest series of Syria withdrawal tweets US President Donald Trump claimed he didn’t know Brett McGurk, apparently an insinuation he never met him, and said that he gave Secretary of Defense James Mattis a “second chance” by offering him the position in the first place.
In tweets that appear to contradict some of Trump’s claims during the campaign, that he wanted to defeat ISIS, and also some accounts in Bob Woodward’s Fear, about Trump seeking to put together a team that would defeat ISIS, he struck back at media criticism for leaving Syria.
He tweeted: “Brett McGurk, who I do not know, was appointed by President Obama in 2015. Was supposed to leave in February but he just resigned prior to leaving. Grandstander? The Fake News is making such a big deal about this nothing event!”
Trump went on to claim that “If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America. With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!…When President Obama ingloriously fired Jim Mattis, I gave him a second chance. Some thought I shouldn’t, I thought I should. Interesting relationship-but I also gave all of the resources that he never really had. Allies are very important-but not when they take advantage of U.S.”
His tweet about Mattis seeks to respond to the Mattis resignation letter and McGurk’s resignation which was announced on December 22. It follows a week of shock and chaos in Washington after Trump’s call with the Turkish President on December 14, and his decision to leave Syria announced on December 19. Since then, in a rare number of tweets devoted to foreign policy he sought to respond to criticism of the U-turn on Syria policy. He discussed Mattis leaving on December 20 and sought to show there was some support for his policy on December 21. He even claimed “I’ve done more damage to ISIS than all recent presidents….not even close!” The tweets on December 22 came in response to the McGurk announcement. But they seem at odds with Trump’s desire to have defeated ISIS, when it is clear that ISIS is not defeated in the Euphrates valley and that they continue to be a threat.
He also claimed “On Syria, we were originally going to be there for three months, and that was seven years ago – we never left. When I became President, ISIS was going wild. Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!”
This tweet was unclear what he was referring to, since the war on ISIS began in 2014 and the US didn’t get involved in Syria seriously until 2015 and 2016. At most that is four years, not seven. Evidently the “be there for three months” refers to the Obama administration’s decision to support the Syrian rebellion in 2011-2012. That math would make it seven years since December 2011. Evidently Trump felt that being in Syria refers to these two disparate campaigns. He wrapped up the support the Syrian opposition early on in office. He wanted to leave in March 2017. He was convinced to stay until December 2018.